One Entrepreneur’s Story of Building a Business for a Better World–With Joe Magee

PineMark is to you and me what LEED is to buildings: a certification of sustainability. PineMark founders Joe Magee and Lauren de los Santos are incentivizing and rewarding individuals for their green lifestyles and educating them along the way.

I spoke with Joe, who shares a commonality with many entrepreneurs. He left his comfortable seat making good money for a Fortune 500 company to start a better business–one that not only had a positive environmental impact, but that gave him the opportunity to flex his entrepreneurial muscles. For the past 12 months, he’s lived on savings and credit cards as he and Lauren launched PineMark.

PineMark offers two levels currently. Anyone who takes the 8-minute audit, which scores the ecological impact of his home, travel, purchasing and eating choices, can access a large marketplace with retail discounts on products ranging from solar systems to adventure trips to clothing. If you score high, you can become PineMark Certified, giving you access to premium discounts and PineMark’s online community and a certification badge.

  • Joe wasn’t an ardent environmentalist before starting PineMark, and he’s not now. He’s always been conscientious and feels Boy Scout experience and his regular surfing runs give him a respect for nature. He sees his average level of environmental knowledge as an asset, allowing him to design sustainability criteria, education and rewards for the large pool of individuals who, like him, recycle but may not yet understand the full impact of airplane travel.
  • Joe and Lauren didn’t pay a cent for the website. Instead, he used some of his entrepreneurial flex to find a developer and designer who identified with PineMark’s mission and built the site entirely on sweat equity and founders’ stock.
  • To design the assessment process and algorithm, the co-founders worked with professors and experts from Vanderbilt University, whom they’d found through their research.
  • A 90-day certification program that gives day-by-day steps to green your life is in the works. Individuals can enter the program at any level and receive the information and support to reach certification–rewarding them with energy and water savings, premium discounts and a certification badge.
  • PineMark plans to monetize through a combination of fees for the certification program and retailer listing and affiliate charges. They will license out the scoring application to non-profits without charge.
  • PineMark has brand appeal. Affiliated brands are excited to talk about their role in providing sustainable products and contributing to a consumer’s greener lifestyle.
  • The marketplace is not “about buying more stuff,” says Joe. “It’s about making the socially responsible choice when you do buy something.”
  • I asked Joe how it feels to live the vision of creating his own business that makes a positive worldly impact. He says that it doesn’t feel really good yet because the business model is still unproven, but he is seeing success in areas (like retailer partnerships) and capitalizing on them. And he loves talking to skeptics.
  • In his personal life, Joe has been shaped more by the entrepreneurial element of PineMark than by the environmental. He continues to recycle, buy responsibly and forgo fast-food (and his bulbs have long ago been changed). His work ethic has become stronger and his daily habits more structured. One thing Joe is committed to: his next surfboard will be sustainably sourced and crafted.

Joe and PineMark are on Twitter at @GreenSurf and @PineMark, respectively.

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